Giuseppe Eskenazi on Motivations of Art Collectors

As last weekin London has finished Asian Art Week 2015, The Art Partners interviewed Giuseppe Eskenazi,  who is regarded as one of the most respected dealers of ancient Chinese and Oriental art in the world.

The Art Partners: When is the decisive moment to start collecting art? Do you think a collection of art is a reflection of the collector?

Giuseppe Eskenazi: The decisive moment in modern life is linked with private wealth. When people become wealthy, they start buying art both as a commodity, but also as a personal status in society. By acquiring art you acquire a position. Traditionally people bought art with a cultural interest to the history in past. Today is because it is related to high price it gives social status. When you walk into someone’s apartment and see Andy Warhol’s painting, you know it is ten or twenty million. It is like putting a check. 


TAP: What are the benefits and the shortcomings of art investments? 

G. E.:  There is always a risk. Everybody who buys art ultimately wants to make a good investment. Don’t believe anybody who says “I am buying art only because of my passion” with today’s prices. They might love art, care about art, but at least they want to make a secure investment. If you have 5 million dollars, no matter how rich you are, you don’t throw it away. You want in a few years time it still will be 5 million or hopefully even more. In the back of the mind, there is always this desire for good investment. Art for the last 20 years has become with no doubt an alternative investment. When stock market or real estate market always go up and down, why not invest part of my wealth into art. Because art is limited, it’s low in supply, because of museums. So the demand is going up, the supply is going down. Art is like hedging, secure investment against the risks.


TAP: Does the competitiveness in the art world affect the behaviour of art investors? 

G. E.: Competitiveness is very important subconsciously and psychologically. A lot of people who collect nowadays, they came from the world of business or commerce. They had to compete to make money. Buying art now becomes another competition. They want to have a trophy. When they buy important work of art, publicly recognised, definitely here is a competition. They can afford that competition and they are buying the best. 


TAP: How spontaneous are collectors in choosing art? Do they follow a certain strategy in the acquisition of art?

G. E.: I don’t think it is spontaneous. I think there is kind of order in their mind, which makes them doing what they want. It is pure instinct. At the same time it is influence of market as well as influence of other people, by the latest exhibitions. For example, Tate Modern had a great exhibition of Matisse cut-outs. More people would beat for cut-outs after the exhibition. 


TAP: What are key trends in collecting now?

G. E.: I don’t think the best art is the most expensive. There are great works of art selling everywhere by dealers, auction houses, privately. Maybe just some of works are undervalued now and haven’t reached the popularity yet. The paintings of Abstract Expressionists were very expensive 4 years ago, were in high demand. Now became more popular Americans mid of the 20th century, like Andy Warhol. Fashion is a lot to do it. There are kind of trends. Collecting art is very fashionable now. Among the rich people from Qatar or UAE they are one of the biggest buyers now. They can afford unbelievable prices. They were influenced by fashion around 10 years ago. But now they are the leaders. They established new fashion.


TAP: What do you think collectors follow when choosing art? Are they more passionate or rational?

G. E.: Obviously, there is a relationship between the individual and the work of art. If the work of art means something to the individual then they get interested to buy. There are many opinions, which can possibly influence an art collector. From publicity, advisors, auction houses, exhibition and museums, even friends. There are more reasons behind even if they don’t admit. If someone saying “I want to buy a Van Gogh”, there is a reason behind it. The exhibition forced to do that or dealer who advised to do so. It might be competition between friends or family collectors. 


TAP: How do collectors usually make the decision to purchase? Does the role of advisor or consultant is important?

G. E.: I personally think an advisor is very important. I think another opinion from whoever is very important. It is kind of guidance. Especially at the start of collection, until the person feels more comfortable. 


TAP: Has there been any impact on the attitude of art investors post-technological development and innovation, such as creation of online sales sector? Do you see any correlation between the development of the Internet and its influence on the collector’s behaviour? 

G. E.: Online sales are giving privacy to the people who are not so sure about themselves to walk in to the gallery and say “I want to buy this”. The same with the auction houses, collectors are afraid to walk in and put the hand up for bid. They can buy art easily online and keep the deal private. No doubt, Internet influenced a lot on the collector’s behaviour. They are not buying blind, there is kind of assurance. They have protection to return an object and give the money back. 


TAP: Have different cultural backgrounds affected the choosing of art? Do you see any correlation?

G. E.: It always starts from national and then the taste is elaborating. Russian collects icons, important Russian paintings, Faberge. The same thing with Chinese and Japanese, with every nation. 

In the case of Far East, the situation with Chinese collectors is complicated. They are buying to bring their own culture and their own inheritance back home and they have the wealth to do that. They are buying their own artefacts, bronzes, sculpture. The purposes are different. Chinese now are buying Impressionists or Post War art to establish themselves in line with Western collectors. 


TAP: Why do you think the building of private collections is becoming more popular, rather than loaning to museums?

G. E.: Private collections and private museums are inevitable. From the 20th century there is a raise of private collections, look at the Frick collection or the Guggenheim. The same thing was happening in Russia, Japan, France, England, etc. It inevitable that wealthy people have an ego. Ego pushes them to have something with their name on it. To give your collection to the museum wouldn’t keep your name forever. Normally museums take the names of collectors of after 10-15 years, and it becomes the ownership of museum collection. So if you have your museum it is permanently with you. But it is not enough to have a collection and to open a museum. You have to be able to sustain.